The episodic story revolves around two friends - older cowboys - who are trying to survive in the dying days of the big cattle ranches, as absentee Eastern corporations buy up the Western landscape, altering the only lifestyle that these hard-working, free-spirited men know and can embrace.
While many cowboys are sent packing as ranches are being dismantled or rendered inactive, Monte (Lee Marvin) and Chet (Jack Palance) are trying to remain on horseback doing the work that defines who they are and gives them a sense of accomplishment. But these are dead men riding in the dusk of their times, and what's worse, they know it. The serene pale pink and blue canopy of the fading daylight envelops these men and symbolically illustrates the sundown that lays heavily on their hearts. The truth dogs Chet until in a relaxed moment at the close of a day, he acknowledges what all of the ranch hands know but have avoided admitting. "Nobody gets to be a cowboy forever," he warns his friend. But Monte is incapable of adjusting and he will remain astride this horse called "Honor" even if it takes him into the horizon of a sad and solitary existence.
For Monte and Chet, some solace can be found in retaining their work ethic for the faceless employers and in the relationships that they clumsily but sweetly form with a prostitute and a lonely widow - two women who can understand the pain that these men carry and who can share in their growing sense of isolation.
This is a very special and haunting movie that addresses the loneliness of those who feel distanced from their surroundings - caught up in forces that strip them of relevance in their times. This is NOT an action-packed, rip-roaring, shoot-em-up, and it will disappoint anyone who comes looking for exaggerated Hollywood gun duels. 'MONTE WALSH' is a character study that takes a hard and realistic look at Western men and women who cling to each other for support during the halcyon "hour" of soft, golden light and elongated shadows.
If what I have just written means something to you, then 'MONTE WALSH' will find an honored place in your movie collection; if it doesn't, then I would recommend great but more traditional and/or exciting Western Movies to you (e.g., Red River; Shane; Butch Cassidy, etc.)
There are so many subtle, authentic touches to be discovered in this movie. For instance, in one scene Monte's shirt is ripped, but notice how it shows up later in the form of a bandana around his neck. That's true Western economy!
~ Stephen T. McCarthy
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